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Football, handball and Basketball are all popular choices from an early age in the Baltic state, but darts is yet to progress in the home of Ljubenko. 

“There is not much steel tip darts in Croatia, we prefer the soft tip game. We’ve now joined the World Darts Federation and are competing more in steel tip tournaments, so we hope that we will raise the profile of steel tip darts in Croatia”. 

The 16-year-old has taken the future of the sport into his own hands, travelling to England on a regular basis to compete on the Junior Darts Corporation UK Tour. The draw hasn’t been kind to Ljubenko in recent months facing former finalists Tavis Dudeney and Mitchell Leeming in the early rounds. 

He has also faced regular runners Ieuan Halsall and Nathan Care as he looks to get off the mark on the JDC circuit. Despite his lack of success on the board, Ljubenko has the bigger picture in mind: “My main goal as a player is to improve and eventually get to the standard of the best the JDC can offer, but I also want steel tip darts to be more of a big deal in Croatia, and for our country to produce great players in the future.”

Croatia has had darts stars previously competing on the PDC stage. Robert Marijanovic and Tonci Restovic represented their home country in the 2013 World Cup of Darts. Whilst Croatian born Dragutin Horvat now represents Germany on the PDC circuit. 

Ljubenko believes much like Germany and Japan, Croatia need a poster boy to see a spike in the popularity of the sport: “There aren’t many youth players in Croatia, maybe 15 if you’re lucky. It is still seen as a pub game over there.

“We have tried to improve it and make it a recognised sport but it’s difficult to do in such a short space of time. But hopefully with success people will realise what a great game this is.”

Ljubenko now holds the unenvious task of making a mark in the big time of junior darts. He was complementary of the facilities the JDC provides and the standard the UK has offered him during his visits. 

“It’s the first time I’ve been to a JDC event, so I want to test myself against the best junior players in the world. Of course, I don’t expect too much but It would be nice to chalk up a few wins. In Croatia there aren’t many players to play with or against, so to play against the great standard you have over here is an amazing experience.”

There is no doubt that Filip has the talent to fulfil his dream of one day competing on the Alexandra Palace stage, with the help of the JDC, he may just achieve his dream in years to come. 

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